By Zach Arnold | March 30, 2016
Sacramento and Tallahassee, you two are cheap dates when it comes to the amount of cash required to lobby for legislation.
The UFC has powerhouse lobbying firms on retainer all across the United States. In Florida, their partners are Corcoran & Johnston. In California, it’s the inimitable Tim Lynch at Platinum Advisors. The price tag is at least $15,000 a quarter for retainer. In most cases, UFC is spending upwards of $75,000 as a minimum to lobby & exert incredible influence over state athletic commissions. It’s the cost of doing business. In the grand scheme of things, the amount UFC spends on lobbying versus how much they actually make is chump change. They get great bang for their buck.
That was never the case in New York, however. The company desperately wanted to get MMA legislation passed in New York. Starting in November 2007, the company began an incredibly expensive $2 million lobbying campaign over the next four years that would flounder. It didn’t matter if there were shows in New Jersey or pressers at Radio City Music Hall or fighter interviews on major media outlets. As long as Sheldon Silver was in power in the New York state Assembly, they were wasting their time and money. The lobbyists got even richer.
It’s common knowledge that UFC blew a lot of cash in Albany. What is remarkable however, from a historical perspective, is to look at the actual lobbying records from November 2007 through the end of the 2015 political season to see how much UFC spent, where they spent it, and who benefited from the lobbying largesse. It also reveals the hard changes UFC had to make in strategy to take down some of America’s most corrupt politicians.
Let the games begin
You can either buy influence or you can drop the hammer in the courts. UFC chose soft power first.
Their preferred lobbying partner of choice was BROWN MCMAHON & WEINRAUB LLC. Eventually, the firm morphed into BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC but never wavered as being UFC’s key point people in the Albany legislative battles. As the battles heated up, UFC also went in bed with the MIRRAM GROUP in New York City. They ended up pouring significant money into the coffers of public relations firm Global Strategy Group and consulting group V-Shift.
From November 2007 through June 2011, UFC spent over $2 million dollars to run against a proverbial brick wall. It was frustrating, infuriating, and not producing any kind of real results. How could you blame them either? It’s not as if $5 million or $10 million would have changed the equation.
Take a look at the detailed list of expenditures from this time period to see what UFC spent:
- July-December 2007 – $10,000 to lobby on MMA with BROWN MCMAHON & WEINRAUB LLC
- January-June 2008 – $60,000 retainer w/ BROWN, MCMAHON & WEINRAUB LLC along with $247,114 in expenses ($35,000/month with PR firm Global Strategy Group, $30,000 with consulting group V-Shift) to lobby on A1239 / S2858
- July-December 2008 – $60,000 retainer w/ BROWN MCMAHON & WEINRAUB LLC along with $229,500 in expenses to lobby on S2858/A1239/A11458
- January-June 2009 – $52,500 w/ BROWN MCMAHON & WEINRAUB LLC, $32,500 w/ MIRRAM GROUP along with $235,865 in expenses to lobby on A2009/S2165A
- July-December 2009 – $45,000 w/ BROWN MCMAHON & WEINRAUB, LLC, $30,000 w/ MIRRAM GROUP along with $133,976 in expenses to lobby on A2009/S2165A (payments to Global Strategy started to decrease here to $22,500 a month)
- January-June 2010 – $60,000 w/ MIRRAM GROUP, $45,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC along with $150,030 in expenses to lobby on S6610/A9710
- July-December 2010 – $60,000 w/ MIRRAM GROUP, $45,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC along with $134,000 in expenses to lobby on S6610/A9710 (payments to Global Strategy decreased here again, down to $17,500 a month but included $9,000 online ad campaign)
- January-June 2011 – $60,000 w/ MIRRAM GROUP, $45,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC, $12,973 for UFC-employed lobbyist, $175,326 w/ Global Strategy Group along with $94,477 in expenses to lobby on A4146/A1707 (including $8,000 in robocalls and nearly $70k in print/radio ad buys)
No matter what pollsters like Siena revealed in positive momentum for MMA legislation, Sheldon Silver wasn’t going to budge.
Ditching soft power for hard power
The lobbyists were getting rich but going nowhere. So the UFC modified their strategy towards the courts and towards hiring their own in-house lobbyist.
As the great Jim Genia wrote in his January 2015 Constitutional Cagefight article, UFC attacked the state of New York over their obstruction to professional MMA.
“Three years ago, Zuffa, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, got sick of shoveling money into the open furnace that is Albany. Lobbying to change the New York State law banning mixed martial arts competitions — enacted in 1997, it’s the only statutory ban on the sport in the entire country — had become an exercise in futility, achieving nothing other than putting cash in the hands of politicians who either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything. So Zuffa engaged the services of a high-powered firm in midtown Manhattan, and filed a federal lawsuit against the State Attorney General over the law. If lobbying wasn’t helping, the reasoning went, maybe the courts would.”
The court case gave UFC an opening for discovery & deposition. UFC argued the law was vague and got the state spinning on its wheels. The state argued against UFC on the issue of standing and damages. UFC lost the battle but would eventually escalate the war in another lawsuit, this time claiming standing & damages by booking Madison Square Garden. Of course a fight wasn’t going to happen in April, but that wasn’t the point.
UFC shifted the millions of dollars they spent on lobbying towards their legal team in New York. From July 2011 through the end of 2015, they spent about half a million dollars lobbying. It kept them in the game just enough to have a two-track attack.
- July-December 2011 – $27,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC, $7,000 for UFC-employed lobbyist to lobby on A4146/A1707
- January-June 2012 – $27,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC, $9,082 for UFC-employed lobbyist along with $4,825 in expenses to lobby on A4146/S1707/A9879
- July-December 2012 – $27,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC to lobby on A4146/S1707/A9879
- January-June 2013 – $30,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC, $14,580 for UFC-employed lobbyist along with $17,650 in expenses (grassroots consulting) to lobby on S2755/S2609/A3009/A6506
- July-December 2013 – $30,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB, PLLC to lobby on S2755/S2609/A3009
I pause here after the 2013 records to point out a surprise. UFC’s good friend and MMA World Series of Fighting svengali Sig Rogich joined the lobbying battle in New York. The former member of Ronald Reagan’s press shop and mainstay in Nevada politics & combat sports joined the fray with his own powerhouse lobbying firm.
- Jan-June 2013 – $45,000 to lobby on A3405 S2755 A6506 A7055 S4724 S5055 with Featherstonhaugh, Wiley & Clyne LLP
- July-December 2013 – $45,000 to lobby A3405 S2755 A6506 A7055 S4724 S5055
The UFC kept a presence in 2014…
- January-June 2014 – $30,000 W/ BROWN & WEINRAUB PLLC, $6,602 for UFC-employed lobbyist along with $3,889 in expenses to lobby on S5055/A8312/S6502/A8775
- July-December 2014 – $30,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB, PLLC to lobby on S5055/A8312/S6502/A8775
Then the glorious shoe dropped in January of 2015. Sheldon Silver was indicted on corruption charges. The legislative game changed. UFC smelled blood in the water, both on the legal front and now on the lobbying front.
- January-June 2015 – $30,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB, PLLC, $20,000 w/ MIRRAM GROUP, $16,628 for UFC-employed lobbyist along with $29,836 in expenses (M Public Affairs consulting) to lobby on A2604/A1481/A1529/A1981/S5949/S503/S2662
- July-December 2015 – $45,000 w/ BROWN & WEINRAUB, PLLC, $7,288 for UFC-employed lobbyist along with $7,139 in expenses to lobby on A2604/A1481/A1529/A1981/S5949/S503/S2662
The lobbying numbers for the first half of 2016 won’t be released for a few months but you can bet that UFC paid a premium to get MMA legislation passed in March of 2016.
It would not be surprising to find out that UFC spent $7 million over the last decade to crack the code. It may be a drop in the bucket for them but $7 million dollars is $7 million dollars.
The fruits of their labor will be an event at Madison Square Garden. To recover their financial investment, UFC will need to run a few successful shows in the state to balance the books. They will pull this off.
The price of freedom to do business was high but well worth it for UFC. It took an army of lobbyists, public relations masters, and attorneys to fight the state of New York and Sheldon Silver. A look through UFC’s lobbying records revealed how much perseverance it took to fight major league corruption. They footed the bill when no one else wanted to.